The City of the Living Book
I land in The City of the Living Book, surrounded by a desert where nothing is alive. The Arab city of Dubai دبي has prospered under the Islamic bible, the Koran كوران, since the 7th century. While this U.A.E. boom town is now a cultural mecca, it’s still surrounded by a barren parking lot of sand. My flight from Paris arrives in Dubai دبي on a painfully bright Sunday morning. The entire trip had a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, much higher than normal. Looking at the in-flight map, I realize that we passed over war-torn Syria and Iraq. I am completely fine with another 6,000 feet.
Dubai دبي was once a sleepy desert town. In one generation, the Al Maktoum آل مكتوم family transformed the seaport into a modern-day Samarkand (a metropolis on the crossroads of world cultures for over two and a half millennia, and one of the most important sites on the Silk Route).
Disembarking the plane, my head grazes the jet bridge ceiling. The U.A.E. is a former English colony and there are giant British bank ads everywhere I look.
Entering the airport, there is a sign for the toilets and an Islamic prayer room. None of this generic, non-denominational stuff here. Like the N.B.A., it is win or go home and Islam won.
I walk past the luggage carousels into the main terminal. Scattered throughout the lobby are thick, white Doric columns. Each one is two stories tall. Their fluted surfaces remind me of a Roman temple. While this is one of the busiest airports in the world, nothing is crowded. Men in white and women in black Arab thawbs ثوبس (traditional tunics) crisscross the concourse.
All around me is elegant, flowing Arab script. The loops and curves look like a musical form of calligraphy. They resemble old Khmer letters from Thailand. Do Thai tourists come here and think “Wow, Arabs can’t write for shit.” ว้าว, ชาวอาหรับไม่สามารถเขียนให้อึ!
All around me is elegant, flowing Arab script. The loops and curves look like a musical form of calligraphy. It resembles the old Khmer letters from Thailand. I wonder if Thai tourists come here and think “Wow, Arabs can’t write for shit.” ว้าว, ชาวอาหรับไม่สามารถเขียนให้อึ!
I go outside and grab a cab. It is now raining. Only I would come to the desert with an umbrella, and get to use it. Dubai دبي has just three inches of rain a year, and today is the day. It’s almost noon, so I ask my cab driver if he needs to pull over for “Salah” صلاح (Muslims bowing and praying towards Mecca). My intent is to be courteous. But I’m also envisioning a “don’t pray and drive” situation (cars swerving as people steer between bows).